Pupils will no longer have to wear face masks in secondary schools and colleges in England, while all university students will return to in-person teaching from next week.
The relaxation of COVID measures will come as part of the latest easing of England’s lockdown from next Monday, 17 May.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed this is when the country will move to stage three of his roadmap for lifting restrictions.
Number 10 said the latest data for schools showed coronavirus infection rates among students and staff were continuing to decrease as rates fall more generally among the population.
As a result, pupils will no longer be required to wear face coverings in classrooms or in communal areas of secondary schools and colleges.
This had been introduced as a “precautionary measure” when schools reopened in England on 8 March.
However, students will continue with twice weekly home testing.
The decision to scrap the wearing of face masks in classrooms comes despite a group of government advisers having last month highlighted the “importance of maintaining current mitigation measures in schools”.
In a document released last Friday, it was revealed members of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling Operational sub-group (SPIM-O) had, on 21 April, noted a “modest increase” in positivity in school aged children in an Office for National Statistics infections survey.
This followed the period between the reopening of schools on 8 March and the Easter holidays.
“This highlights the importance of maintaining current mitigation measures in schools, such as testing and mask wearing, in the coming months,” SPIM-O said in the document.
Last week, five unions representing teachers and support staff – as well as scientists and parents – also wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urging him to keep masks in place until at least 21 June.
Meanwhile, the prime minister’s further easing of restrictions from 17 May will also see all remaining university students return to in-person teaching.
Some students, including those doing practical courses such as science and engineering, and who needed to access specialist facilities and equipment, had already been back on campus.
Before the remaining students are able to return next week, they are being encouraged to take a COVID test at least one day before they travel back to their term-time accommodation.
And, upon their arrival back on campus, all students and staff will be encouraged to take three supervised lateral flow tests three to four days apart at an on-campus testing site.
They will also be expected to be tested two times a week throughout the rest of the summer term.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan said: “Our priority from the very start of this pandemic has been to help students complete their courses and graduate as planned.
“I am pleased that the prime minister has confirmed all remaining students can return to in-person teaching from the 17 May as part of step three of the government’s roadmap.
“It is vital that we make every effort to keep us all as safe as possible, and every student will be offered three tests on return to campus.
“I would strongly encourage students to make use of the free tests available to them.”
Ministers have also made available an additional £85m in hardship funding for those students most in need, such as those struggling to pay accommodation costs due to the COVID pandemic.
International and postgraduate students will be eligible for this funding, along with domestic undergraduates.
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